what the study is about

In this study, we explore expatriate divorce. Our goal is to understand not just the causes of divorce, but also the consequences – to expatriates and their spouses and children, to the companies that employ them, and to the wider communities in which they live.

why it matters

International assignments can take a toll on marriages. In a recent study, 99 percent of trailing spouses rated “a strong and stable relationship” as the most important adjustment factor during an international assignment. The “Family Matters” study found that “marital breakdown” was reported by nearly 70 percent of expatriates and their spouses as the most important reason why relocations fail.

Stories abound about expatriate husbands whose wives discover a local mistress or rampant infidelity, who then repatriate and divorce them. The Telegraph* claimed that 445 foreign couples living in Dubai ended their marriages in 2011, a 30 percent rise on 2009. Is this fact or fiction? While we may never know for sure, the fact is that expat marriage has for a long time been a “taboo” subject, even among trailing spouses. But it needn’t be.

The reality is that expatriates and their families typically face huge relocation challenges: spouse employment, new cultures, languages, locations, homes, schools, and networks. Tellingly, there is no handbook for “how to do” expat marriage - families literally make it up as they go. As many expatriates attest, family expatriation is one of the hardest things to build a skillset for, and because of this, expatriates and their families tend to suffer years of stress, strain, and unhealthy living before it possibly ends in failure, a split assignment, separation, or divorce.

* Hyslop, L. (2012). Expat divorce in Dubai on the rise, The Telegraph.